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US Justice Department charges college basketball assistants in bribery scheme

26 September 2017 17:26

The United States Justice Department has charged assistant coaches from four prominent college basketball programs in what it describes as a wide-ranging system of bribery and fraud related to financial advisors.

Assistant coaches Chuck Person (Auburn), Lamont Evans (Oklahoma State), Emanuel 'Book' Richardson (Arizona) and Tony Bland (USC) have been arrested along with Jim Gatto, the director of sports marketing at Adidas, and five others, the Justice Department and FBI announced on Tuesday.

The government also alleges Adidas helped facilitate payments of $100,000 and $150,000 to high school players to induce them to sign with Louisville and Miami.

"The picture painted by the charges brought today is not a pretty one," Acting US attorney Joon Kim said at a news conference in New York.

According to complaints filed with the US Circuit Court for the Southern District of New York, the FBI and US Attorney's Office have been investigating the "criminal influence of money" on NCAA basketball athletes and coaches since 2015.

The probe revealed "numerous instances" of financial advisors, business managers and others paying bribes to assistant college basketball coaches – and sometimes directly to players – in exchange for the coaches encouraging those athletes to use the services of the financial managers once they turned professional.

"All of those charged today contributed to a pay-to-play culture that has no business in college basketball," said Bill Sweeney of the FBI's New York office.

Sweeney added that the investigation is ongoing and encouraged anyone with information about similar schemes to contact the FBI's tip line.

Court documents filed by the government provide detailed breakdowns of meetings and telephone conversations involving the defendants.

The complaint against Person, a former Auburn star who played 13 years in the NBA, says he accepted approximately $91,500 in bribes over a 10-month period from a "cooperating witness" who ran a financial services firm and was facing federal fraud charges.

The same cooperating witness and financial adviser Munish Sood, who is likewise facing charges, met with Evans multiple times in 2016 and 2017 when Evans was an assistant at South Carolina and then Oklahoma State.

The complaint states Evans was paid at least $22,000 in bribes over the course of a year to steer players to Sood's firm, Princeton Advisory Group. Former agent Christian Dawkins also is facing charges, the government says.

Sood and Dawkins also facilitated the payment of $20,000 in bribes to Richardson and $13,000 in bribes to Bland, according to the complaint.

Person, Evans, Richardson and Bland are charged with bribery conspiracy, solicitation of bribes, conspiracy to commit fraud and wire fraud.

In addition to taking bribe money for themselves, the government says Person, Richardson and Bland funneled cash to players or families of players as part of the scheme.

Sood and Dawkins are charged with bribery conspiracy, money laundering, payment of bribes, conspiracy to commit fraud and wire fraud. Adidas executives Gatto and Merl Code face similar charges for participating in the scheme with the intent to steer players to Adidas-sponsored programs and sign with the shoe company when they went pro.

The complaint says those four men funneled $100,000 from Adidas to the family of a high school player in exchange for the player's commitment to Louisville, an Adidas-sponsored program. Gatto, Code and Jonathan Brad Augustine, who works for an Adidas-sponsored AAU program, are accused of facilitating payments of $150,000 to another high school player to attend Adidas-sponsored Miami. 

Adidas released a statement on Tuesday that read: "Today, we became aware that federal investigators arrested an Adidas employee. We are learning more about the situation. We're unaware of any misconduct and will fully cooperate with authorities to understand more."

Rashan Michel, a former NBA referee who made headlines in 2011 by getting into a fight with Dominique Wilkins after a Atlanta Hawks game, faces charges for acting as an intermediary between some of the coaches and the financial advisors.

"For these men, bribing coaches was a business investment," Kim said. "They knew that the corrupt coaches, in return for bribes, would pressure these young men to use their services."

The allegations in the various complaints would represent significant violations of the NCAA's rules and likely will result in significant penalties for the schools and coaches involved, but Kim said he did not believe the governing body was aware of the investigation until Tuesday.

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